Towards sustainable craft businesses

 10 July 2014

Craft Northern Ireland’s 'making it' programme is a two-year business start-up scheme for makers in craft and applied arts. Funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, it is a model of best practice in craft enterprise development.

Past participants go on to demonstrate significant development both in their product and practice. (Image: Simon Mills)
Past participants go on to demonstrate significant development both in their product and practice. (Image: Simon Mills)

Every two years the making it programme supports between six and eight designer-makers as they take their first steps towards establishing sustainable craft businesses.

The programme is competitive, attracting a large number of applications with a range of experience, from recent graduates to those with a few years in business. The selected craft businesses are paired up with host organisations throughout Northern Ireland for a two-year supported programme. 

Supporting craft businesses

Host organisations range from universities to further education colleges, and from art centres to museums. They offer the participants a mix of practical facilities and logistical support, such as free studio space, access to resources and equipment. 

Good business skills are as important as technical skills to craft business success.

In return the designer-makers take on activities such as teaching classes, exhibition support and talks. As well as providing mutual benefit, this opens up the participants to a wider range of sources of potential income.

Alongside their host, the participants undertake a support programme consisting of: quarterly seminars, course work and one to one assessment sessions co-ordinated by a consultant on behalf of Craft NI. They ensure the programme is tailored to their individual business needs.

Focusing on business skills

In the first year, the programme is focused on design and product/business development, and in the second year on practical business skills such as:

  • business planning
  • bookkeeping
  • sales and marketing and legal issues.

In order to widen the impact of the programme beyond the core participants, the quarterly seminars have been opened to a broader audience and are now attended by up to 30 participants, many of whom follow the entire programme.

The programme is given wide publicity by Craft NI. This is not only to ensure a good take-up of participants, but also to provide exemplar case studies of craft business success and to promote the fact that good business skills are as important as technical skills to designer-makers.

Craft business successes

The programme has been running since 2005 and out of 29 alumni, 27 were still trading in 2014 (against a usual craft business drop out of one in three in first three years, and despite a time of a recession). 

In return the designer-makers take on activities such as teaching classes, exhibition support and talks.

Past participants are tracked by Craft NI and go on to demonstrate significant development both in their product and practice, with several selling outside Northern Ireland in high-end design markets.

The scheme is well developed and has a great reputation and there are no difficulties in attracting participants or host organisations.

It is always a challenge to secure funding. But it is Craft NI’s ambition to run a further scheme for mid-career makers who have reached a plateau in their business development, to help them refresh their design and making skills and to help them develop new products and new markets.


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